Relationships • Article

How Night Owls And Early Birds Can Get Along

Carol Sorgen

Share this article

Different sleep preferences don't have to become a relationship problem - get our most helpful tips and insights from real couples.


If one of you is up at the crack of dawn and the other is still snoozing away, can a relationship still work? The good news is, early birds and night owls can get along, but it takes understanding and compromise.


It took night owl Carol and early bird Gary years to manage their different sleep preferences. When they were first married, Carol forced herself to get up early to make Gary breakfast.


“I thought as a good wife, that's what I should do," says Carol. It turned out, though, that Gary actually preferred her to sleep in so he could enjoy a quiet, peaceful breakfast on his own.


“Once I realized that, I was relieved that I could sleep in without feeling bad at all about it!" says Carol.


“And luckily it does not matter to me if Carol keeps a light on to read when I go to sleep before her, and she does not get disturbed if I wake up and get out of bed well before her in the morning," Gary adds. “We compromise on these issues like others in our marriage."


Identify Your Circadian Rhythm

Carol and Gary are not alone. Many couples are dealing with different sleep preferences — or needs. Early birds and night owls are, in fact, inherently pre-disposed toward one sleep preference or the other, according to Kim Hutchison, MD, SAASM, ABSM, associate professor of neurology and sleep medicine at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland.


Hutchison explains that we each have an internal clock within our brain. That clock works with daily prompts like meal times and exposure to light to keep us on a 24-hour cycle. This is known as a circadian rhythm, and it plays a big role in when you want to sleep.


“That rhythm isn't the same for everybody and it will likely shift throughout your lifetime," says Hutchison. While everyone's rhythm may be different, our need for sleep remains the same.


Sleep Differences Developed Over Centuries

The science behind circadian rhythm is still under discussion, but Hutchison says sleep experts generally accept the theory that differences in sleep patterns have developed over centuries.


“When early humans lived in groups, it was necessary for someone to always be awake," she says. “Their job was to keep watch over the tribe and protect those who were slumbering. This was especially true during the night, when darkness, predators and mischief lurked. Survival depended on someone always being awake.


“Often, the job of staying awake fell on teenagers," Hutchison continues. “Their growing strength and angst helped them stay alert into the night. Then, when first light appeared, the elderly and the babies would wake up and the teenagers would head to bed. When full daylight hit, the working adults would vary their schedules so that the community always had a combination of activity and rest.“


Knowing why you and your partner don't have the same sleep preferences should eliminate the blame game, but how do you keep the relationship humming along when one of you is sound asleep and the other is wide awake?


Respect Each Other's Sleep Preferences

Longtime partners Ceres and Ken have made it work. They've been together for 18 years.


“In the first years, Ken wanted me to go to bed when he did and get up at 5 a.m. with him," Ceres says. “I resisted because once I stopped teaching, I no longer had to get up at the crack of dawn and didn't want to go back to that schedule."


Ceres admits that the difference in their schedules has sometimes been problematic, but they've learned to work with their different sleep preferences. Ten years ago, for example, Ken bought Ceres an e-reader to encourage her to come to bed earlier.


“It has worked pretty well," says Ceres, noting that she usually reads for an hour in bed before going to sleep; Ken, by that point, is already sound asleep. If they get up at different times, Ken enjoys his quiet early mornings to browse the news and walk the dog, while Ceres slowly eases into her day “doing my own thing."


Being aware of your differences and respecting each other's preferences, like these couples do, is the first step toward minimizing the differences in sleep patterns.


“Once you recognize and accept the differences, then move on to finding times when your awake hours overlap," says Hutchison.


For most people, this is in the evening, usually around mealtimes, so Hutchison suggests having dinner together and then spending time with each other, whether it's going for a walk, watching TV or each doing your own thing, but in the same room. You can even have a friendly competition by both taking the Sleep30® Challenge.


What about bedtime? Hutchison suggests that both partners go to bed together so there's time for intimacy, whether that's talking to each other, snuggling or having sex.


Once your early bird partner is asleep, feel free to get back up, Hutchison says, but be respectful of your sleeping partner — meaning no bright lights or blaring sounds.


Communication Is Key

Speaking of sex, how does that work when your schedules and habits are so different?


Communication and planning is key, says Molly DeMellier, co-host with Erica Spera of the Shooters Gotta Shoot dating/relationship podcast.


“The best thing to do if you're in a relationship and finding yourselves on opposite ends of the sleep spectrum is to communicate with your partner the lifestyle that best fits your personal needs," says DeMellier.


“The caveat here is to communicate without expecting them to totally change their habits — but to be able to speak openly about what suits each of you individually."


De Mellier acknowledges that planning intimacy isn't super sexy and can feel a little strange at first, but she emphasizes the importance of speaking candidly with your partner about when you're both most comfortable with being intimate.


“Because let's face it," she says, “if you're an early bird and are planning to get up early to prep for a big meeting the next morning, a late night throw down in the sheets can be stressful. And on the flip side, if you're a night owl looking for some late night fun it can be confusing and frustrating to be rejected by your partner. Setting times for intimacy will reduce these frustrations while also giving you something to look forward to."


Sleep Number bed owner? Update Wellness Profile for More Early Bird + Night Owl Tips & Content

If you're a Sleep Number 360® smart bed owner, you can also do something to receive more personalized tips.  Whether you like to wake up early or go to bed late, your bed's SleepIQ® Wellness Profile now lets you indicate your preference. So, pull it up on your phone and update if you're a night owl or an early bird. 


Want even better sleep? Sleepers who routinely use their Sleep Number 360® smart bed technology can get 28 minutes more restful sleep per night — that's up to 170 hours per year!*


Like diet and exercise, quality sleep has a profound impact on our physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. Because no two people sleep the same, Sleep Number 360® smart beds, with SleepIQ® technology, sense your movements and automatically adjust firmness, comfort and support to keep you both sleeping comfortably and provide proven quality sleep. Find your Sleep Number® setting for your best possible night's sleep, and if you own a Sleep Number® bed, log in to your InnerCircle℠ Rewards account to see your exclusive offers, refer friends and more.


*Based on average SleepIQ® data from 8/1/21 – 2/28/22 of sleepers who engaged with their Sleep Number® setting, SleepIQ® data and FlexFit™ smart adjustable base. 



Carol Sorgen is a full-time freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. She covers a variety of topics including healthcare, lifestyle, travel, aging, the arts, architecture/design, life sciences, business, and education. Her articles have appeared in such publications as The Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, WebMD, Ocean Home, and Psychiatric News, to name a few.

Less Cranky, More Loving. This Couples Story

Lisa Opack was feeling bleary-eyed and frustrated when she saw the solution to her problem. The 26-year-old resident of Carmichael, Calif., was working at the state fair when she noticed a nearby booth selling Sleep Number beds. For months, her boyfriend’s snoring issues had been keeping her up. And he was growing tired of her constant kicking. Could a new mattress help them sleep better and wake up less irritated with each other?

Read more about Less Cranky, More Loving. This Couples Story

How This Busy Couple Sleep With New Baby

Ernest and Maria Anunciacion like to stay active. Ernest is on the road about forty percent of the time, for work, and when he’s back home, the couple likes to head out from their downtown Minneapolis home to explore the city and its restaurants and concerts.

Read more about How This Busy Couple Sleep With New Baby

Share this article